Coverage rekindles memories of '82 Cline Avenue collapse

Local workers saw Cline disaster from the inside
2007-08-03T00:00:00Z Coverage rekindles memories of '82 Cline Avenue collapseBILL DOLAN
August 03, 2007 12:00 am  • 

Photos of the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota roiled memories for area men who had seen such tragedy before from a different perspective.

"It brought back bad memories -- but was a little bit different than it was for me," said Donald Ketchum, of Valparaiso. "It was horrific. My heart pours out to the people who were injured or killed -- and their families."

Ketchum and 77 other workers were involved in the 1982 collapse of the 1.6-mile Cline Avenue bridge over Riley Road and the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal.

A total of 444 feet of the elevated highway in East Chicago fell in sections like dominoes on April 15, 1982, plunging construction workers as far as 65 feet to the ground in the worst industrial accident in Indiana history.

Fourteen people eventually died. Another 16 workers were severely injured.

Ketchum survived the fall, though he suffered severe injuries. The accident claimed his brother's life and injured an uncle, all of whom were working on the Cline Avenue site.

Ketchum said he was pouring concrete when he heard a loud noise of structure giving way.

He has said in numerous recountings of his experience that he doesn't remember falling, just finding himself waist-deep in freshly-poured concrete with a shattered arm and a piece of metal impaling his torso.

Felix Schacki, of Merrillville, said he's puzzled over this latest accident.

"I don't understand how a bridge could come down like that," Schacki said. "It must have had a weak structure."

Schacki said he was working atop Cline Avenue sections in a stairway that day when he saw a neighboring section fall. And then his own tumbled.

He said he remembers men shouting as he limped out of the rubble and looked up in time to see yet another section fall.

"I saw people flying through the air," he said.

He said he was rushed to a hospital bed so quickly, his co-workers lost track of him for a while and assumed he was dead.

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